Is your space being invaded with paperwork, clothes, or emotional keepsakes? Is your inbox constantly full and you can’t keep up with your social media feeds and messages? Clutter saps your energy and happiness, so follow our expert tips and declutter today. By Christine Fieldhouse
Most of us have a clutter weak spot. We might hold on to every mobile phone, iPad and laptop we ever owned, or we may have a collection of china bells that belonged to our great-grandmother. Other people store every piece of paper they’ve ever been given, whether it’s a menu, greetings card, letter or a glossy magazine. Whatever our reasons, it’s often hard to let go, so we don’t – meaning our clutter just grows and grows.
But research has shown that clutter – which includes everything from messy piles of papers on a desk to children’s toys all thrown in a corner and clothes spilling out from closets – can be a dangerous space invader that saps our energy and even affects our mental health.
Just seeing a mountain of belongings, let alone stepping over it or rummaging through it to find something we need, can bring down our mood and self-esteem. As we lose our sense of order, we begin to feel we have little control over our lives.
Lydia Miller, a psychotherapist and cognitive behavioural therapist at The Psychiatry and Therapy Centre in Dubai Healthcare City, says: ‘When we keep our home, desk, car and wardrobe tidy, we feel more organised, calmer and have a sense of control. Having clutter around us is highly stimulating, meaning more of our energy and focus is taken up by information that isn’t important.
When we keep our home, desk, car and wardrobe tidy, we feel more organised, calmer and have a sense of control. Having clutter around us constantly is highly stimulating, meaning more of our energy and focus is taken up by information that just isn’t important.
‘Untidiness can increase our stress levels. We’ve all searched for keys in the morning under a mess of papers or forgotten where we left an important note. Constantly seeing clutter can leave us with a nagging feeling to tidy up, which in itself is stressful.’
Research shows that women who describe their homes as cluttered are more likely to be depressed and fatigued than those who described their homes as restful.
And a study by the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University in the US discovered clutter had a negative impact on our ability to focus on and process information. As people found it harder to concentrate on the task in hand, their performance decreased, and their stress levels rose.
But declutter expert Beverly Wade stresses we don’t need to be brutal – just mindful – about culling our possessions. ‘It’s important to keep the things that make you happy,’ says Beverly, who runs Cluttergone, a service which helps people sort out their homes and offices so they feel more organised and in control. ‘It might be the ticket from the first concert you went to with your husband, or your son’s favourite cuddly toy. Holding on to some things is good, as long as they are organised, you know where they are, you have access to them and they give you pleasure.’
So which cluttermonger are you, and what can you do to clear some space in your life?
The proud parent
Children come with plenty of baggage – from prams to giant teddy bears, bicycles, toy cars, dolls and Xboxes. They bring home artwork, models and trophies from school. Before we know it, our homes are crammed.
Kate Minosora, a clinical psychologist at the Lighthouse Centre for Wellbeing in Dubai, says: ‘Parents with a long-lasting clutter problem are the ones who buy, collect and hold onto every item that represents their child as they grow up. Even when their children are adults, these parents continue to hold onto the items because they’re associated with specific happy memories.’
But while Beverly Wade doesn’t advocate keeping everything, she stresses we mustn’t delete our children’s early lives just so we can boast a minimalist home.
‘There are some things you should keep, like your child’s first shoes, or their school reports,’ she says, ‘because you don’t get back those years. They just need to be neatly stored in a box you love, and be accessible so you can have a trip down Memory Lane whenever you want.’
How to declutter
Start by deciding which items are no longer needed, suggests Kate Minosora.
‘Give items to younger family members such as grandchildren, nephews and nieces, or donate them to the charity donation bins scattered around Dubai to help the neediest in the city or further away,’ she advises.
And if you find it hard – or you don’t want – to let go of teddies your toddler played with, for example, Beverly Wade suggests keeping one from each collection.
Stop clutter building up by suggesting people buy your children experiences, such as trips to the cinema, instead of toys for their birthday. ‘Also, make sure you go through memory boxes regularly,’ says Beverly. ‘Have a ‘‘one in, one out’’ policy so that to add something new to the box, you have to get rid of something else. That way you only keep what’s really important.’
This person loves the buzz of shopping and owning the latest designer shoes or their favourite suit – in six different colours – gives them a thrill. But with consumerism comes shopping clutter, unless we’re organised about our purchases.
Lydia Miller explains: ‘With higher disposable income, large shopping malls and late opening hours, Dubai can be a shopper’s dream. We want the latest designer bag or the most expensive watch to keep up with others, but the high from buying and swinging the latest It bag may not last – cue the next shopping trip!
‘This person has lots of clothes with tags still on and outfits that have never felt the heat of the Dubai sun. There will be boxes of shoes at the back of their wardrobe, clothes piled up around the house and they will be using a second wardrobe because theirs is overloaded. When they open their wardrobe, clothes might well fall out, which makes choosing an outfit for the day overwhelming.’
How to declutter
If you’re in doubt about what to keep and what to throw, evaluate every item you’re not sure about, suggests Lydia.
‘Hold them in your hand and ask yourself whether each thing brings you joy,’ she says. ‘If it doesn’t, it may be time to part with it, either by giving it to a friend, maybe even holding a clothing party or packing it up for an overseas charity.
‘Or you could declutter a category, like bags or shoes, not room by room. The theory behind this is we have the same kind of things in different rooms – for example, we may have shoes in our wardrobes, in the hallway and in the living room. Get them all together before making a decision about what stays and what goes.’
For many of us, it’s just a case of getting our shopping organised – maybe with a walk-in wardrobe, or items neatly displayed on a dressing table.
But if shopping is a real addiction, Lydia recommends we either find a new activity that gives us the same buzz as shopping, like going to the gym; we take a different route to work and avoid the mall, or we carry cash not credit cards so we’re not tempted to splurge.
‘Identify what triggers a shopping spree,’ she says. ‘You may shop when you’re feeling low, lonely or anxious. Maybe you could connect with a friend or family member, do some reading or simply allow the feeling to pass.’
The tech addict
Over the last 15 years, our technological world has exploded, meaning that we are connected to everyone everywhere, but with this accessibility comes digital chaos which can be overwhelming for many of us.
Some people get hundreds of emails per day, or they’re inundated with text messages, none of which get deleted so when they need important information, they have to scroll through a lot of digital clutter to find what they’re looking for.
Their phones are cluttered with apps, photos from the last few years, videos of every social gathering and their social media feeds.
‘The techies have a preoccupation with the digital world,’ says Kate Minosora, ‘so they fixate their energy and resources on keeping up with this ever-changing platform. But this fast pace can make them feel overwhelmed and as a result, some people will feel disorganised.’
According to Beverly Wade, having thousands of e-mails might not be an issue for some people, especially if they have mastered the search facility on their computers, and having thousands of friends on Facebook might make them feel secure.
But for others a digital detox might make them feel more in control. ‘Open your laptop after a nice peaceful weekend and see a hundred emails waiting for you,’ says Lydia Miller. ‘That’s enough to raise your stress levels.’
How to declutter
If having too many emails gets you down, create a system to manage them, suggests Lydia.
‘Create subfolders in your Inbox, such as travel, personal, home, and just drag emails into the relevant folder,’ she says. ‘It makes it easier to find them for future reference. And once emails have been dealt with and you don’t need them, delete them. Have a weekly system in place – maybe on Thursday afternoon, and set aside 20 minutes to clear your email folders. You will leave work with a sense of closure.’
If you’re inundated with updates from thousands of people you barely know on social media, consider a cull. ‘I have a rule on social media that if I wouldn’t say hello to these people if I passed them in the street, then why should we be friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?
‘Every now and then, go through your friend list and de-friend. If you have an annoying school friend who frustrates you or raises your stress levels with her posts, delete. Turn off post notifications – most of us know what it’s like to have a ‘quick look’ and then find 20 minutes later we’re still scrolling through our feed. Turning off notifications allows us to focus on the task at hand rather than being bombarded with interfering information. Transfer all your photos and videos on to iCloud to keep your phone from being clogged up.’
But what if your digital overload is more of a physical issue and your home is a graveyard for old laptops and phones? ‘Get rid of your oldest gadgets first,’ advises Beverly Wade. ‘Move everything you want to the Cloud or to an external hard drive and get rid of your old gadgets and their chargers.’
This person loves the printed word – whether it’s a restaurant menu, a free newspaper or a flyer advertising a new Zumba class left outside their apartment doors.
They may keep every birthday card they ever received or receipts for expensive purchases from years ago just in case they need them. They have piles of books they never get round to reading by their bedside and their desks are piled high with documents.
Kate Minosora says: ‘The surplus of paper in the home creates clutter and important paperwork, such as letters, bank statements and receipts, is disorganised. But people keep hold of these things because they think they’re more useful or valuable than they actually are. They think they might come in handy in the future.’
How to declutter
The experts suggest we tackle this problem at source to reduce the paper mountain in our home. This means saying no thank you to flyers and free newspapers handed out and transforming all our banking, school correspondence and even receipts to online only.
‘Have a recycling bag by your front door and put any paper junk in there to prevent it getting any further inside your home.’ Says Beverly Wade. ‘Keep your shredder handy so you can get rid of paperwork easily.’
Kate recommends we unsubscribe to unimportant mailing lists, then devise a filing system for important things like bank statements, current school letters and health appointments.‘Take your discarded paper and put it in the recycling bins at the mall, the beach and most hotels,’ she suggests.
These people are career men and women who travel abroad regularly, living in hotels and using their homes as a base between trips. For this reason, says Kate, they spend little time organising their home or enjoying their time there.
‘Because they’re always travelling, they end up with duplicates,’ says Kate. ‘They buy new clothes instead of getting their old clothes laundered, and additional cosmetics and travel accessories like new suitcases and noise-cancelling earphones.’
How to declutter
Most of us have toiletries that we bought just in case at the airport because after time away we’d forgotten what we had at home.
Beverly recommends keeping a toilet bag for travel, with travel sizes of shampoo, conditioner, cleanser, moisturiser and toothpaste that can be replaced or topped up after every trip.
‘When you come back from a business trip, spend ten minutes filing away receipts and throwing away debris, such as plane and train tickets,’ says Beverly.
Better still, go electronic, says Kate Minosora. ‘Move to electronic copies of boarding passes, receipts and other travel documents which can be stored on your phone and deleted when they have been used,’ she says.
Lydia Miller is a psychotherapist and cognitive behavioural therapist based at The Psychiatry and Therapy Centre in Dubai Healthcare City. psychiatryandtherapy.ae
Kate Minosora is a clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Centre for Wellbeing in Dubai. She specialises in cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness therapies. lighthousearabia.com
Beverly Wade runs Cluttergone, a professional declutter and organise service, based in Harlow, Essex, which covers most of the UK. cluttergone.co.uk